No. 25 Tennessee still has uncertainty on both sides of line
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee's starting combinations on the offensive and defensive lines remain a mystery less than a week before its season opener.
The 25th-ranked Volunteers released a depth chart Monday that indicated both defensive tackle positions and the center and right tackle spots on the offensive line remain up for grabs. Tennessee begins its season Saturday against Bowling Green at Nashville's Nissan Stadium.
Tennessee's first-team center is listed as senior incumbent Mack Crowder or sophomore Coleman Thomas. The starting right tackle is either Thomas or sophomore Brett Kendrick. Junior Danny O'Brien, senior Owen Williams and sophomore Kendal Vickers are competing for the two defensive tackle spots.
The offensive line is a major source of concern for the 25th-ranked Vols, whose 43 sacks allowed last season were the most of any Southeastern Conference team. The Vols lost their most experienced lineman in training camp when senior guard Marcus Jackson injured his biceps, likely knocking him out for the entire season.
''Our offensive line has really worked hard,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ''They've made great, great progress, tremendous strides moving forward. It's a great, great situation that we have right now, that we still have individuals battling it out, and they'll continue to battle it out. I look at us having eight, nine starters.''
The rest of the offensive line includes senior Kyler Kerbyson at left tackle, sophomore Jashon Robertson at left guard and junior Dylan Wiesman at right guard. Kerbyson and Robertson started all 13 games last season. Wiesman made two starts, both at center. Crowder made 11 starts at center, Thomas started five games at right tackle and Kendrick made two starts at left tackle.
''I'm 100 percent confident with whoever the five guys are,'' junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs said.
Jones downplayed the depth chart by pointing out that it only shows ''who takes the field first'' and that competition would be continuing throughout the season.
That includes the defensive line, where the Vols have such depth that freshman tackles Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle - both five-star recruits - aren't listed as first- or second-teamers. Jones said both of them would play Saturday.
A couple of surprising names were atop the depth chart.
Sophomore walk-on Colton Jumper is the first-team middle linebacker after winning a competition that included six candidates at the start of training camp. Jones said freshman Darrin Kirkland Jr. and junior Kenny Bynum also would play.
Freshman Jauan Jennings, who worked out at quarterback during spring practice before switching positions in training camp, is listed as a first-team receiver along with sophomore Josh Malone and either junior Marquez North or senior Johnathon Johnson. Jones said as many as 22 true freshmen could play Saturday.
That receiving corps got a boost Friday when the NCAA cleared freshman Preston Williams, who was rated as a five-star recruit by 247Sports and Scout. Williams didn't get to participate in training camp, but Jones expects him to play Saturday.
Tennessee also apparently hasn't decided on a punter. The depth chart indicates sophomore Trevor Daniel, Maryland graduate transfer Nate Renfro and freshman Tommy Townsend all have a shot at winning the job.
In the secondary, sophomore Todd Kelly Jr. replaces injured senior LaDarrell McNeil as the starting strong safety and junior Malik Foreman is the first-team nickel back following a season-ending foot injury to Rashaan Gaulden. Jones said Monday it would be a long shot for McNeil to return this season due to instability in his neck.